Brewery’s food trucks petition sent to July 25 town meeting

Food trucks at the brewery? It’ll be up to the voters.

Responding to petitions signed by close to 400 people, the selectmen scheduled a July 25 public hearing and town meeting to amend town ordinances so “mobile food vendors” could legally park for extended periods at breweries and wineries. Currently, mobile vendors are limited to 15 minutes in one spot.

The petition was circulated by supporters of Nod Hill Brewery on Route 7, where operators hope to invite in food trucks to compliment the sale of their locally brewed beer.

“We wish to host high-quality, locally-based food trucks to provide fresh, gourmet meals for our patrons,” Nod Hill Brewery co-owner David Kaye told The Press.

“We have received an overwhelming amount of requests for food trucks at our brewery, and wish to serve our customers needs as best we can. We also see it as a great opportunity to collaborate with like-minded chefs to provide a wide range of different food that pairs with our beer offerings. Finally, we feel that this can be a helpful safety measure to encourage responsible drinking at our taproom.”

The selectmen weren’t sure late July was the best time to ask townspeople to consider changing an ordinance.

“That’s a terrible time,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said. “Any time in summer’s going to be quiet.”

But the town charter says petitions signed by 2% or more of registered voters are entitled to a public hearing and town meeting within 45 days — and the selectmen accepted the petition as verified with enough valid signatures on June 20.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the board that Town Clerk Barbara Serfilippi verified that the petition effort by the brewery had reached the needed 2% of the town’s registered voters. Calculating that 2% of 18,165 voters is 364 signatures needed, Serfilippi verified 393 signatures — easily enough to qualify the petition.

The petition would amend a “peddling and vending” ordinance that dates back decades but was last amended by a November 2016 town meeting to prohibit mobile vendors from just setting up in a spot. The goal back then was to protect “brick and mortar” restaurants from low-overhead competition from food trucks and carts, while “grandfathering in” as legal exceptions the town’s two long-established vendors — Chez Lenard on Main Street and the Zwack Shack on Route 7.

The language proposed in the brewery’s petition grants an exception allowing mobile food service operations to be an “accessory to a brewery or winery.”

Under the proposal the mobile food vendors may operate “on the same property as the brewery or winery” and ”may only operate during the same general operating hours as the primary use.”

The selectmen didn’t like the fuzziness of “same general operating hours” and wondered if they — or the town meeting — could amend the language proposed in the petitions.

“I think we should vote to allow food trucks — just, some of this language is problematic,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.

Marconi said he would ask the town attorney for an opinion on amending language in a petitioned ordinance change.

Rob Kaye, one of the brewery’s owners, was at the June 20 meeting and told the selectmen that with a draw of about 500 people a day, the brewery site probably couldn’t support more than one food truck at a time.

“There might be times we’d want to have a small festival,” he said.

David Kaye told the Press that he didn’t think the proposal would trouble other businesses — the problem the 2016 amendment sought to address.

“Based on our friendly relationships with neighboring restaurants in the Branchville area,” he said, “we feel that our hosting food trucks will not cause any issues that the original ordinance was designed to prevent.”